Laws, regulations, ordinances and many other types of government actions can impact a variety of professions and businesses. When issues arise that affect a certain profession, associations can find themselves uniquely positioned to make a difference in the well-being of their members through advocacy. Therefore, it is important for associations to have a plan to determine how, and if, to get involved. Here is a five-step plan to guide your association in its advocacy efforts.
Potential issues can arise from the media, government agencies, current events, or from members directly. Research the issue before you initiate a conversation among association leaders or members. Determine if the issue warrants more discussion. If there is an actual threat to members, the profession, the industry or the association, bring it forward in a discussion among your group’s leaders.
Communicate that there is an issue to members via email, an advocacy alert, a newsletter item, or whatever communication vehicle your association relies on. Coordinate and invite them to an informational meeting at which a board member or industry leader leads the discussion, presents the issue and proposes several options on how/if to move forward. Member consensus should dictate the next steps. Be sure to consider and offer the option to not pursue any action as well.
Education is two-fold: internally for members on the issue and externally for legislators to learn about the industry or profession. Both are necessary to appropriately engage stakeholders on an issue. Legislators pass regulations with good intentions, unaware of unintended consequences on necessary industries. Create standard speaking points, compile relevant industry data and showcase information on members’ important work and contributions. Brand these materials from the association to strengthen the legitimacy of the source and advise members on how to use these resources so key messages are clear and consistent. Keep members informed both on the steps the association is taking to protect them and on the issue itself. This is especially critical if additional information is needed from members about the profession or industry. Members need to know and trust why they are providing additional information.
There are many ways to advocate for your members, from coordinating a grassroots members’ communications campaign to hiring outside expertise. It is also possible to use a combination of strategies. It is critical to get the issue and data in front of the people that are shaping the legislation. Engaging outside the expertise of an attorney, PR professional, or lobbyist can be the key to making your issues known. These experts have the relationships and access to officials, as well as the skills needed to get your issue in front of lawmakers.
Look for other industries or professions potentially impacted by the legislation. Research if another association is already working with legislators on the same issue. Reach out to them to potentially collaborate, thus increasing the impact of your combined messages, speaking with a common voice and elevating the importance of the issue. This is a great way to share resources as well as show the wider implications of whatever is being introduced.
These five tips can work as a checklist of sorts to ensure that your association is prepared to take the next step in advocacy if needed. Determine first whether or not to take that step, then focus on the logistics of executing your plan. In the end, your membership will drive a lot of your actions in advocacy work, so it is important to first get informed, then engage members, and finally, advocate for them.